Down the block from Montgomery's sparkling new federal courthouse, the site of one of the city's most infamous injustices sits in disrepair.
Plans to make a multimillion-dollar museum of the old Greyhound bus station -- where Freedom Riders were beaten by an angry white mob in 1961 -- have been on hold for two years now. The station languishes on a long list of unfunded, unprioritized projects that have led to resignations and accusations of racial prejudice at the Alabama Historical Commission.
A historical marker out front is all that distinguishes the empty, water-damaged building. The Greyhound sign is missing, and the red-white-and-blue striping common to such stations is almost faded beyond recognition.
"It's fast becoming an eyesore," said Reggie Hamner, a former executive director of the Alabama Bar Association, who is working with the ongoing renovation of the old federal courthouse next door. "There have been a lot of promises, a lot of aspirations."
Janice Hawkins, chair of the commission's board, said the holdup is financial, with a number of worthy historical sites all in need of funds.
"We have made a commitment to each of these sites," she said. "We just can't live up to the full commitment until there is money to do it and a plan in place. . . . The plan that is currently in place is beyond our means at this time."
That was also the sentiment of the Alabama Legislature's Contract Review Committee two years ago, when it stalled a $1 million contract for preliminary architectural work by renowned designer Ralph Appelbaum, whose portfolio includes a Holocaust museum in Houston and the immigration museum at Ellis Island.
The committee questioned spending $1 million on planning, especially since the proposed price tag already was $8 million. Rep. Alvin Holmes, a longtime civil rights leader in Montgomery, said lawmakers also were unsure why the contract included buying the Moore Building across the street from the station.
"I was on the Freedom Rides. I was there that day when we got beat up," Holmes said. "That building has no significance to the Greyhound bus station, no more than any other building on that street."
Lee Warner, then the executive director of the Historical Commission, agreed to consider the legislators' concerns before proceeding. But after beginning some preliminary fundraising, Warner resigned in August, saying Southern heritage groups, Gov. Bob Riley and the commission's board had stonewalled his efforts on several civil rights projects, including the Greyhound station.
Warner declined to comment for this story. But Rep. John Knight, chairman of the Alabama House General Fund budget committee, said the delay of the project is "pure racism."
"I think it's unfortunate that the Historical Commission in this day and time . . . are refusing to recognize legitimate African American historic sites and to pursue the preservation of those sites as they have done the preservation of the Confederate sites in this state," said Knight (D-Montgomery).
Riley defended the concerns about planning costs and strongly denied as "ridiculous on its face" the suggestion that his administration opposes civil rights preservation projects.
Hawkins also disputed claims that the commission is opposed to civil rights projects.
Instead, she blamed the tie-up on the commission's failure to set project priorities beyond Warner's group of six sites at the top of the list. Those six projects -- ranging from new renovations like the bus station to repairs needed at existing historical sites -- are expected to cost $107 million, which Hawkins said the cash-strapped agency is "a long way" from raising.
For now, those who have pushed for the museum are getting restless, and they're afraid the old station's significance will be forgotten.
The Freedom Rides, designed to test the U.S. Supreme Court's 1960 ruling prohibiting segregation in interstate transportation, had been temporarily stopped after turning violent in Anniston and Birmingham. But on May 20, 1961, a new group of riders left Birmingham for Montgomery under the belief they would have a police escort to the station. The escort disappeared when the bus was met at the station by an angry mob armed with bats, bottles and lead pipes.
President Kennedy dispatched 400 U.S. marshals to keep the peace. Soon after, on Kennedy's orders, the Interstate Commerce Commission banned segregation at interstate transportation facilities.
Down the street from the station, Randall Williams runs the New South Book Store. He's also on the board of the Montgomery Improvement Association, a decades-old civil rights organization that helped get things rolling on the museum.
"The past couple years, there hasn't been much for us to do other than hope the historical commission can get the process straightened out and get it started," Williams said. "I'm confident it will go forward at some point."
Holmes said he'd like to see the bus station completed in time for next year's 50th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycotts, which began with Rosa Parks's arrest on Dec. 1, 1955.
"I'd like to see it sort of climax with that," he said. "I think that would be nice."